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by Jehuda Saar
Friday
Jun292012

Chrome now on iPhone and iPad

I am not yet sure why I did this, but the second I heard that Chrome was available on the iTunes App Store, I went for it. I am almost exclusively a Safari user, but for some reason I felt the need to add Google's browser to my machines. I'll let you know when I figure out why that was so important, but in the meantime I did feel that the little ad Google prepared for this intro was worth watching. Enjoy.

Friday
Jun292012

Simply Fantasti......Cal !!!

For the past year I have been using this little utility that has become indispensible. It is safe to say that Apple's iCal is probably their worst piece of software. OK, maybe that dubious achievement award belongs to iTunes. But iCal is a close second. Entering events or reminders into iCal is simply tedious. Enter Fantastical. Type in "Dentist appointment tomorrow at 1PM" and watch Fantastical parse it correctly and create your reminder in iCal effortlesly. This little video really says it all. Highly recommended.

Friday
Jun222012

Two recent innovations Apple should steal

 

In the past few days two products were introduced by Apple competitors that have made some noise: Samsung came out with the Galaxy S III, and Microsoft once again entered the hardware business with the Surface. While I will leave reviewing or giving opinions on these products to people who are much more adept at this sort of thing, there are two particular innovations I liked a lot, one for each of these products, that I wouldn't mind if Apple "adapted" into their product line. The obvious one is of course the Surface's Touch Cover. In essence this is equivalent to the iPad's Smart Cover, except it has a built-in keyboard. Clever little bit of engineering and something I would enjoy much more than typing on the iPad screen.

The Galaxy S III also has all sorts of cool techie bells and whistles, but one of the coolest innovations there are what they call TecTiles. These are little $3 stickers, embedded with circuits, that activate certain things on the phone whenever the phone is near one of them. Imagine sticking one in your car and having it turn your phone's Bluetooth on as soon as you sit in it. I could think of other location-specific actions I would have these stickers trigger on my phone throughout a regular day.

So, Apple, pay attention, and find a way to bring these sort of concepts into our iOS world. Call it something else if you want, we won't mind. So long as we get to take advantage of the tech, we don't care who came up with it first.

 

Friday
Jun222012

LunaTik are at it again - this time with the iPhone

The makers of the TikTok and LunaTik cases for the iPod nano have this time decided to produce the TAKTIK, without a doubt THE coolest iPhone case out there....or ALMOST out there. For this is once again a Kickstarter project, but one they will no doubt succeed with handsomely yet again. Check out the super cool video below.

Thursday
Jun212012

History of email

In a piece entitled Timeline: A brief history of email, Glenn Fleishman of Macworld.com posted this cool graphic timeline.

Thursday
Jun212012

So simple why didn't I think of it...

And another one of those clever, simple, "illuminating" ideas you smack your head about saying "Why didn't I think of this ?" An exciting new Kickstarter project called CordLite: an illuminated charger cable for your iPhone.

Thursday
Jun212012

iPhone 5 (yeah...right)

As far as concept videos go, this one takes the cake

Thursday
Jun212012

Sparrow

For Mac and iPhone users who have been looking for a great Mail alternative, check out Sparrow. This is an elegant, simple, straightforward email program that I have been using concurrently to Mail for a while now and love dearly. Version 1.3 for the iPhone now adds POP email support (originally it was IMAP only and at first was just a Gmail client but has evolved since) which, from that perspective, brings it to parity with the Mac version. The site's iPhone page has a cute "emulator" that shows you what happens when you apply specific clicks or swipes to the app. If you integrate it with your FaceBook account it will pick up your friend's profile pictures into your mail messages. Definitely worth the detour.

Sunday
May062012

Adventures with Apple TV

 

A few months back I wrote about what we hoped would one day be an Apple branded television experience. The idea was that Apple would come out with a big screen TV that would revolutionize the way we watch the tube today (that is, for those of us who still watch TV following a network imposed schedule of some sort). But the truth is that, to some extent, that Apple branded TV experience already exists. I am of course talking here about the $99 little hockey puck sized "Apple TV". 

Interestingly enough I did not get it for the same reason that most people buy it for. Typical users of this item are looking to access online content easily (be it iTunes or Netflix for movies and TV series, or else to get the MLB.com, NHL or NBA channels for sports). Until we bought the Apple TV the only item hooked up to our main TV by HDMI was another little box called the WDTV. Current models can stream content over the internet, but our old model did only one thing, but did it well: it allowed us to hook up external hard drives chockfull of AVI and MP4 files and watch them on a dedicated HDMI channel on the family TV. Enter the new Apple TV. No longer do we need to worry about hooking up hard drives to anything, anywhere. This new little box lives on the home WiFi netwrok, accesses any iTunes library within reach that has Home Sharing turned on (a feature within iTunes) and can play that content anytime. This includes music, podcasts or even photos. In addition, anyone with an iPod touch, iPhone or iPad can beam content to the Apple TV and watch it on the big screen instantaneously. 

But there is a limitation: all this works very well so long as the files being played are MP4s. What about AVI files ?I spent some time researching possible solutions. Apple does not officially support that format. There are solutions out there that involve on the fly conversions of streaming files, but that looked way too complicated. I needed somehting the kids could manage without calling tech-support every time they want to watch something on TV. I ended up discovering a neat little $7 Mac app called Beamer. Nothing could be simpler: when you open Beamer you get a little window that says "Drop Movie Here". You drag the AVI file over to that window on your Mac and just like magic the file starts playing on your TV through Apple TV. In essence any computer within WiFi range of the Apple TV can thus beam AVI files to the TV and you can use either the Apple TV included remote or any iPod/iPhone/iPad with the Remote app installed to control the video experience. 

Overall I am quite impressed with this $99 little Apple product. For now it is sold as a niche product, and few casual iPhone or iPad fans are even aware of its existence. But it made me rethink whether Apple actually need to enter the physical TV business at all. The same way they now include an MLB.com or NBA channel, couldn't they include HBO or CNN, FOX and CBS ? These could even be apps on one's iPhone or iPad and would beam straight to an Apple TV. There are so many ways that this could work, provided of course that Apple find a way to convince the current "gatekeepers" to play along. One of the main problems at the moment is the fact that a great number of Cable TV providers also pump internet service into people's homes. I can't imagine the Cable TV companies rolling over and letting Apple eat into their profits without putting up a fight. But in the long term the old model of Cable TV subscriptions is bound to come to an end. Those who realise early that the rules are being rewritten and manage to roll with the punches and reinvent themselves will stand a better chance of surviving. I have no doubt that five years from now TV viewing will look nothing like what we have today, and the type of innovation that is driving that change is available to us today, for a mere $99.

Friday
Mar162012

Deeply disappointed

   

There had been so many rumors about the new retina display on the 3rd generation of iPads that I was convinced, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that rather than present a line-up of iPads with 16, 32 and 64 GB, the new line-up would consist of 32, 64 and 128 GB units. Imagine my disappointment when I realized we would probably have to wait one more year for that change to take place. Let's face it: in order to take advantage of the retina display, owners of the new machines will want to watch 1080p video, they'll want apps that have higher resolutions than the current ones etc. All of that takes up a lot of space. I don't have enough room on my 1st generation iPad with 64 GB so how would things work out with the new one ?

Time will tell. Already we see that only a handful of apps were properly rewritten to take advantage of the new screen resolution. Even Instapaper, the app everyone expected would be ready on the day the new iPad came out, has not yet been released because of a last minute surprise from Apple. The Apple apps that were updated last week already show the bloat that accompanies the higher resolution, and in actuality some of the universal iPhone/iPad apps will carry the bloat over to the iPhone as well.

No doubt the reason for this decision by Apple has to do with the cost of flash memory. Chances are no 128 GB units could be produced to match the price of current 64 GB iPads. So the question is do I wait one more year before upgrading ?

Thursday
Dec012011

Oh So Inventive

There is an entire cottage industry growing up around the iOS eco-system. One such product category has to do with integrating the iPad into your home with as little fuss as possible. A new entry in that field is the LaunchPort. Check out the video for a quick overview of this system. While Steve Jobs would no doubt have approved of the clean and wire free look, most people will balk at the price tag: the PowerShuttle that snaps onto the iPad itself is $149 while the two docks on offer, the WallStation and the BaseStation, are $199 each. Not for everyone.

Thursday
Nov172011

I Want My ATV

 

One of the last things Steve Jobs managed to do on his way out was fire up the imagination of every tech pundit out there about some mysterious Apple TV device. For months now we have heard, read and seen people discuss the possibility of Apple entering the TV market with some device that will "kick butt". But one little comment made by Jobs appearing in the Isaacson biography seems to have gotten everyone excited. While talking about wanting to create an integrated television set that would sync with all iDevices to iCloud and would have the simplest possible interface once could imagine he added the words "I finally cracked it". That's all it took. The remark carried so much weight it even seemed to affect Apple's share value for a while. But what exactly was he talking about ? Did he mean the AppleTV now being sold at Apple Stores for $99 ? Was he hinting at some new hardware device that would include a monitor and would replace our living room plasma or LCD ? Or was he actually talking about something that we would be using our iPad for through apps ? The bigger question is: why should Apple even be looking at this business of television ? The company makes money selling hardware, repeatedly if possible, using software they control and ferrying content to us in a manner they can at least oversee. Why would they sell us a piece of "furniture" we might only replace every ten years while being at the mercy of networks and cable operators the world over ?
                  
When word got out that Apple would be entering the telephony business in the middle of the last decade, everyone reacted in disbelief. Why would Apple get into that mess and what could they hope to contribute or even get out of it ? With the benefit of hindsight we now know exactly what they had in mind. So it is possible that there is once again some vision at play here, something we're not seeing, a plan we don't yet grasp. But I have a hard time imagining Apple getting into a business that would entail selling me hardware I would only replace a decade from now. So maybe a full fledged TV is not what they have in mind.
             
One idea mentioned by some of the experts is that Apple would encourage the networks to come out with apps for iOS, like the Bloomberg TV+ app that allows us to watch the Bloomberg Channel live. In a recent earnings call for CBS, Les Moonves, the CEO, stated that he had turned down a proposed Apple TV deal. That comment would lead us to believe there might be something to the idea of the iOS app suggestion. But how compelling would such a solution be ? Maybe coupled with a Newsstand style "folder", like the one Apple forces us to have on the front page of the iPad starting with iOS5, this might be a manageable proposition. On a side note, that little Newsstand gimmick which won't budge from your home screen on the iPad may well be what most contributed to Condé Nast declaring a few weeks back that iPad subscriptions for their digital editions of magazines were up 268 percent since Newsstand was introduced. Talk about enticing network or other TV channels to actually buy into this concept.
                   
The latest entrant in the rush to get into the streaming TV business comes from Sony. While it is not yet clear what they have in mind, Sony CEO Howard Stringer was heard recently stating he had spent the last five years building a platform so he could compete against Steve Jobs. Of all the big players Apple has affected in the world of Technology, one of the biggest losers is probably Sony. While numerous other developments helped kick Sony off the top of the heap (a decade ago if you were in the market for a new TV you would be looking at Sony's offerings before anything else - that is no longer the case today) the one thing that they were much too slow to react to was how to tackle the digitization of consumer electronics with something that was proprietary and unique, and preferably using a closed, integrated system, a la Apple. A decade ago if you had said one tech company would dominate the world of music it would have made sense to imagine Sony achieving that goal. They were in the music business with their record labels (the content) and they were the company that brought the Walkman to the world (the pipeline). But at some point they dropped the ball and Apple came out the winner. One of the main reasons nobody seems to be able to compete against Apple in much of what they have done these past few years is because they created a closed system in which they control every aspect of the business, from the store to the pipeline to the tech toy you use to consume the product. But what of the TV industry ? In what way can Apple create such an integrated system without having to deal with cable companies and heir ilk ?
                 
Some of this remains to be seen. It is not clear what Apple has in mind. Will they offer some sort of combination channel app structure and DVR functionality in their devices to try and circumvent the cable operators ? Time will tell, but there is one thing I am pretty certain of. I know what the "secret sauce" will be. When Apple introduced the iPhone 4S last month a great number of people expressed disappointment at how underwhelmed they were with the introduction. Most of them missed the point. One of the most important announcement was perceived as just a gimmick. I am of course talking of Siri. What a great number of people fail to see if how important Siri, and services like it, are going to be to the future of consumer electronics. Of course at the moment Siri is limited, both geographically (a great number of Siri functions only work in the US at the moment) and in general functionality. When Google introduced their search engine more than a decade ago, it too was far from perfect. But these sort of systems get better the more people use them. It is safe to assume that Siri will continue to improve and go well beyond what it is capable of today. Some of the effects of a Siri-like system are obvious, others are not. Take for example "search". At the moment you enter your search string in the google box and you get your results presented with the targeted ads that allow Google to earn a living. But what happens if you use Siri to perform that search ? Suddenly you get your results as Siri wants you to see them. Gone are the ads, and gone is Google's excuse for charging for their ads. And when you consider that, by their own admission, 2/3 of mobile searches on Google come from the iPhone, you start to see the not-so-obvious effect Siri can have on Google.
                   
So what of Siri and TV ? Imagine sitting in front of your TV and instead of fiddling with a remote you simply say "play the most recent episode of The Walking Dead". Or you tell your TV to "record every episode of The Simpsons", not to mention "volume up" or "channel down" and "pause movie". Of course the question remains: what will you use to speak these commands into. An iPhone, an iPod, some sort of remote microphone ? Whatever it is, I am certain it will look cool and will be fashioned from either brushed aluminum or some other material Jonathan Ive will conceive of for us. Somewhere inside Apple someone is working on those items right now and when the products get announced one day we will once again look at each other and say "This is going to change EVERYTHING !"
Thursday
Oct062011

What he meant to me

 

Like most Apple products users, I have never met Steve Jobs. I have never even seen him. I went to a few MacWorld Expos in my day, but I never ran into the man. And yet, like many people across thre world, I am walking around with some sadness in my heart. Millions of people seem to feel this way about a man they didn't really know, let alone ever meet. 

But in some ways we have all come across the man's work, one way or another. In my case it started early on. I read about the introduction of the first Macintosh computer in a French montlhy comics magazine in 1984, two years before I moved to the States. In 1986, after I moved, I got my hands on a friend's "FatMac" (the 512k model) and it was love at first sight. I ended up buying a brand new Mac Plus in January of 1987 and it changed my life. Other Apple products, both hardware and software, have had that effect over the years. And so I have spent some time today thinking about what it was that I loved so much in these products and what I appreciated so much in Steve's work. And then it finally hit me: Steve Job was an ENABLER (in the positive sense only, of course). What he was creating enabled me to be my best, to strive further, to try harder, to better myself and learn new skills. It allowed me to express myself to my fullest. 

In my case the biggest breakthrough was probably video. In 1999 Steve Jobs presented to the world his second iteration of iMacs: the iMac DV (by the way the link goes to a very cute short video). It was the first FireWire enabled consumer Apple model. It came bundled with a new program called iMovie. When Steve explained what the program could do he said something like "we feel video is going to be a big thing on the Mac" (apologies if I didn't get his words exactly right, chances are that footage is alive somewhere on YouTube). I have since graduated from iMovie to Final Cut Pro and am still involved in a learning process that I am absolutely passionate about. And all of that happened because Steve Jobs enabled me to find in myself something I didn't even know was there. He allowed me to channel my creativity in a direction that I didn't even know I was interested in exploring. That's not to say that I am any good at any of it, but that's not the point. He enabled this by handing us the tools. And he chaperoned other such projects in other fields for others as well. Starting with desktop publishing in the 80s and including music throughout his career. He made it possible for the doctor to check his patient's MIR results on an iPad and for comics readers to obtain their favourite hero's adventures over the air the same day it comes out in print. 

We all have our own story about the ways Steve's creations affected our lives, and that is why we feel the way we do and it explains the outpouring of sentiment we have seen online these past 24 hours. Expressions of feelings about a man we never met, a man we didn't really know, but one who somehow managed to touch each of us individually.

Thursday
Oct062011

About Steve

 

Tim Cook, Apple CEO, sent the following email to Apple employees on Wednesday:

Team,

I have some very sad news to share with all of you. Steve passed away earlier today.

Apple has lost a visionary and creative genius, and the world has lost an amazing human being. Those of us who have been fortunate enough to know and work with Steve have lost a dear friend and an inspiring mentor. Steve leaves behind a company that only he could have built, and his spirit will forever be the foundation of Apple.

We are planning a celebration of Steve’s extraordinary life for Apple employees that will take place soon. If you would like to share your thoughts, memories and condolences in the interim, you can simply email rememberingsteve@apple.com.

No words can adequately express our sadness at Steve’s death or our gratitude for the opportunity to work with him. We will honor his memory by dedicating ourselves to continuing the work he loved so much.

Tim

Monday
Oct032011

Hieroglyphics

 

I am going to do something I never have before: make predictions about tomorrow's iPhone event. Judging by the invitation Apple sent out last week (appearing above) here are my own conclusions. First the obvious stuff: the Calendar icon shows Tuesday the 4th. Simple enough: the event takes place tomorrow, October 4th. The Clock icon shows 10 o'clock. No problem there either. The Maps icon shows the location which is inside the Apple campus. And finally the Phone icon shows a "1". This is where the confusion starts. We have heard so many rumours of two new iPhones coming out: an iPhone 5 and a "cheap(er)" model, maybe called the 4s. Case manufacturers have gone so far as to create cases using a brand new form factor that does not correspond to the iPhone 4 size, simply based on rumours and inuendos, and all so that they can be first to market with a product and hope to cash in that way. Quite a gamble if you ask me.

Personally I don't think we are going to see two models, and I have a feeling that the number 1 in the phone icon is exactly that: 1 model. Furthermore I believe that the form factor will be identical, externally at least, to the iPhone 4. There is really nothing wrong with that form factor. We can surmise that one or maybe both cameras will get an upgrade, most likely to 8 megapixels for the outward-facing camera. And chances are the processor will be the A5 dual core chip we know from the iPad 2. It is also possible that this new model will work on both GSM and CDMA networks. The fact that the event is taking place at Apple's campus also points, in my opinion, to the fact that this is not viewed by Apple as a "revolutionary" event but rather an evolutionary one. Hence my thought about the form factor again. And maybe low key enough that the name of the new product will actually not be the iPhone 5 but something like an iPhone 4S or 4GS.

But maybe most importantly we should read a lot into that little line of text at the bottom: Let's talk iPhone. It would appear that the biggest news about this particular new iPhone will be the Nuance technology built in. They might as well have written: Let's talk TO the iPhone. Rumours are rife with news of advanced tech built into the phone that might turn it into the first phone people talk to regularly. We had seen some of it a while ago when some other Nuance software was announced. But this time it looks as though Apple may have gone all out, and we might not be far from those images seen anywhere from  "2001 A Space Odyssey" to shows like "Star Trek", however for now we shouldn't expect our phone to talk back to us much...yet.